Hardcore porn flicks have plots. Ok, they’re not exactly plots. They are simplistic setups that serve only one purpose, to lead the characters to obscene sexual intercourse. Soft porn flicks have real plots. But who likes soft porn anyway? John Cameron Mitchell tried something else for a change, a hardcore porn flick with a plot and a few real characters; a pornographic dramedy.
Shortbus is the name of a club; a recreational space where you can have or watch all kinds of sex or… not. Seven people end up there to find what their lives lack. Not necessarily their sex lives. A gay couple, an unorgasmic couples’ counselor and her husband, an s&m whore plus a freewheeling gay youngster and a voyeur will experience something out of the ordinary realizing in the end it’s not so extraordinary after all.
Sex is fun. How’s that for a clich©? But sex is funny too. It’s something about the way people turn it into a contest or a skillful task trying moves they didn’t know existed… Well, imagine a friend of yours having sex and try not to laugh; you get the point. All those hours of sexless pseudo-romantic reels where sex is a prize waiting for the champion of life to get it, have distorted our truth a bit more than it should. Mitchel takes sex down from its pedestal and tries to break the myth. The essence lies in the contact. The old battle of substance against form comes alive. The form is ridiculed without mercy in this movie while the substance plays hide and seek with the characters. And the silly jokes polish the extra rough edges of all that hardcore imagery.
The club is a joke itself. Nobody expects to be saved by the Shortbus. The revolution is asleep and since sex hasn’t solved our problems for ages it’s not about to solve them now. Like the androgynous host Justin Bond colorfully puts it: “It’s like the sixties but with less hope.” Mitchell applied a lot of self mockery in his previous weird movie “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” too. But his scripts are also very sympathetic with his characters and the way their need for companionship overrides their egotistical self-destructive need to feel special. The direction is good with the camera dancing through the club scenes or peeping inside the main characters’ windows while Yo La Tengo provide a proper soundtrack.
Still, the post 9/11 New York that is used as a setup isn’t convincing. Desperation wasn’t absent before and all those blackouts aren’t more frightening than a stroll in the wrong neighborhood in broad day light. Maybe it says something about the characters’ backgrounds and their general attitude towards life but I consider it a weak spot, a pseudo-serious note in a movie that thrives at not taking itself seriously.
John Cameron Mitchell and his cast attempted something very difficult and did just fine.